In recent decades India-Pakistan dispute over Jammu and Kashmir has become a marker of their respective nationalisms instead of being a political, territorial, and humanitarian issue. India terms Kashmir an Attot Ang (inseparable part), while Pakistan calls it a Sheh Rug (jugular vein). Kashmiris appear to be absent from this discourse.
Kashmiri leader Mirwaiz Umer Farooq while addressing the Friday congregation at Jamia Masjid in Srinagar after his release from 57 day long house arrest rightfully regretted that Kashmir “is a humanitarian problem…one in which not a couple but thousands of houses have been destroyed…a line has been drawn to separate one part from another. The people of Pakistan and India have celebrated 70 years of their independence this week but the unfortunate people of Jammu Kashmir have been suffering from the past 70 years…do these people not have the right to lead a peaceful life? To celebrate their independence?”
Last year Kashmiri freedom struggle was revived with the killing of Burhan Wani by Indian security forces. Kashmiris took out mass protests. India responded by intensifying the crackdown and mercilessly used ‘pellet guns’ against innocent women and children to suppress the indigenous self-determination movement of Kashmiris. Over hundred civilians have been killed so far and some 15000 have been wounded, hundreds of whom may have been partially or permanently blinded by the indiscriminate use of pellet guns, during crackdown by the Indian security forces.
The uprising in Kashmir and subsequent crackdown in Occupied Kashmir has frozen relationship between Islamabad and New Delhi. Bilateral dialogue remains hostage to any meaningful progress on Kashmir for Pakistan, and on terrorism for India.
India has consistently refused any discussion on the core issue of Kashmir. Whereas Pakistani civilian and military leadership at a meeting of the National Security Committee at its meeting on August 16, 2017 reiterated its position that “regional peace and progress was directly linked to resolution of all outstanding issues including the core issue of Jammu and Kashmir”.
Line of Control, the ceasefire line separating India and Pakistan in Kashmir, meanwhile, remains hot, due to frequent exchange of artillery fire and mortars between the two militaries – 2017 having witnessed record number of breaches since the 2003 ceasefire.
The frequent exchanges have left the ceasefire understanding/accord in tatters although mercifully neither side has revoked it and continue to accuse each other of violating it. Civilian populations on both sides have paid a heavy price for continued hostilities and tensions. India and Pakistan, as states and societies, have borne the brunt of a costly rivalry, which has become a drain on precious resources.
Is there a way forward?
The answer to this question cannot be addressed without looking at the tumultuous history. When the British government decided to transfer power to India and Pakistan in 1947, the rulers of 565 princely states – or two-fifths of India – were asked to either join India or Pakistan. Maharaja Hari Singh, the ruler of J&K remained undecided on the future course. He was a Hindu, while the population of his state was largely Muslim. To ensure that essential services for such as, trade, travel and communication would remain uninterrupted, he signed a “standstill” agreement with Pakistan. He didn’t sign a similar agreement with India.
Meanwhile, a revolt erupted within J&K. Pakistani tribesman from the North-Western region also joined the resistance setting a dangerous precedent for the future. Communal violence increased and given the deteriorating law and order situation, the Maharaja requested India to provide military support against those challenging writ of his government. India government, in return, asked that State accede to India and sign an Instrument of Accession before the forces could be dispatched. India claims that Hari Singh signed an instrument of accession, whereby, India’s sovereignty was extended to defense, external affairs and communications. However, exactly when did Hari Singh sign the instrument of accession, has been contested for last seven decades.
On October 27, 1947, India airlifted troops to Srinagar. Pakistan, to date, challenges veracity of the instrument and also claims that if it was signed, it was done so under duress, and also at a time, when Hari Singh was not in control of the Valley, thus had no authority to sign it. However, fighting between Indian troops and Pakistan backed tribals and soldiers continued till January 1, 1949. In 1948, India referred the dispute to the United Nations, seeking its intervention. UN Security Council, via a resolution, called for a ceasefire and creation of conditions for a plebiscite to decide future of Kashmir.
To date, the plebiscite has not been held. Both India and Pakistan accuse each other of not meeting the conditions for the plebiscite. As history tells us, both continue to be less concerned about the Kashmiris and more engaged with the idea of territorial nationalism.
At present, India controls 43 percent territory of the state – including large part of Jammu, the Kashmir Valley, Ladakh and the Siachen Glacier. Pakistan administers 37 percent of Kashmir, including what it calls the Azad Kashmir and the northern areas of Gilgit and Baltistan. In addition, China oversees 20 per cent of region following the Sino-Indian War of 1962. The Shaksam Valley, which China claims, is part of Tibet.
Since 1989, when an insurgency erupted, 42 years after the Partition, according to local human rights groups more than 70,000 people have died and close to 8,000 remain missing.
Indian army is present in huge numbers while militants also continue their operations. The situation changed after 2003 when internal violence plummeted following a ceasefire agreement between India and Pakistan.
In the last seven decades Pakistan and India have disagreed on the interpretations of the UN Security Council resolutions. Which side would withdraw its troops first became another source of tension. Several rounds of negotiations involving the UN, US and other international actors and bilateral talks have failed to resolve the dispute. Many a formulae have been put forward for solution of the dispute. But, to no avail.
India believes that since Maharaja signed the Instrument of Accession with India, he effectively handed over control to New Delhi. India also claims that UN Security Council resolution 1172 of 1948 accepted Indian claim about Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan. Indian position is that Pakistan has not called back its military forces, which is the first step towards implementing UN resolutions calling for plebiscite in Kashmir. Overtime, the litany of charges against Pakistan has increased as India has been accusing it of supporting militant groups in Kashmir to create instability, thereby waging a proxy war in the region. India also holds that Pakistan is spreading anti-India sentiments among the populace through media to transform the public opinion. The official mantra is that Pakistan ignores the plight of Kashmir under its control depriving the territories of economic development and political rights.
Conversely, Pakistan believes, since Kashmir has Muslim-majority population it should become part of Pakistan as per the original partition plan of the Indian subcontinent. Pakistan also claims India has blatantly disregarded the UN resolutions and deliberately sabotaged the attempt to hold a plebiscite by UN Commission. Pakistan continues to dispute Indian claim of accession of the State and stresses that Maharaja lacked control over the population to have decided their future. Moreover, Indian troops landed in Kashmir before the supposed instrument of accession was signed, thus violating the Standstill Agreement between Kashmir and Pakistan. Thus, the uprising by Kashmiri people is a legitimate struggle as they do not wish to be part of India. It means either Kashmiris wish to be independent or join Pakistan.
India and Pakistan have fought three wars – in 1948, 1965 and 1999 – over Kashmir. The centrality of Kashmir dispute to India-Pakistan conflict is well known and is globally recognized as a trigger for a feared nuclear conflagration. Since 1998, the rivals – India and Pakistan – detonated their nuclear weapons and by all accounts they are among the most proactive nuclear weapon states in the world.
Several attempts at resolving Kashmir have been made but they all found little or no departure from this trend. Progress, however, took place in 2004 when peace process between India and Pakistan resumed. Back channel talks on Kashmir intensified between the military government and the Indian counterparts. A four-point formula (FPF) was advanced by Pakistan’s President Musharraf, which remains perhaps the most doable option. The FPF entails gradual withdrawal of troops from both sides, self-governance for Kashmiris, no changes in the borders of Kashmir and a joint mechanism to steer a long-term solution that would involve representatives of India, Pakistan and Kashmiris. President Musharraf even went as far as to say that if India accepts this formula, Pakistan would be willing to move away from its insistence on UN resolutions. This was a historic moment in our recent history.
To date this formula remains acceptable to majority of Indians, Pakistanis and Kashmiris. It resolves the issue by freezing the status-quo and providing Kashmiris greater autonomy for trade, travel, communication and other services.
The former foreign minister of Pakistan, Khurshid Kasuri has written in his recently published memoirs that the draft of the agreement was ready. Earlier, he also made a statement that 2007 political turbulence which ended up ousting Musharraf from power was linked to the latter’s quest to resolve the issue. Aides of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh have also confirmed the existence and advanced engagement with respect to the FPF.
It is a truism that conflict generates its own vested interests– ideological, political and economic – and resistance is natural. In Pakistan, the powerful military would need to reshape itself if rapprochement with India takes place and Kashmir gets out of the defense objectives. Similarly, in India many lobbies, including the ones, which make India invest billions in arms, would be threatened. The only way to tackle these formidable interests is through a carefully crafted uninterrupted and uninterruptable diplomatic engagement, building public opinion and above all showing political initiative.
The lessons from our history and the myopia of elites – manifested in breakdowns of 1947, 1971 among others – are not encouraging. But status quo has also turned untenable; and fraught with dangers for the future. India plans to become a global power.
Pakistan is pitching itself as a hub of energy trade through pipelines and corridors linking China, Central Asia to the rest of the world. These ambitions cannot be achieved without regional stability and minimizing of flashpoints such as the Kashmir dispute. And this is what makes one hopeful for the future.
Raza Rumi is member of IPI’s Advisory Board. He is Editor, Daily Times and teaches at Cornell Institute for Public Affairs and Ithaca College, New York (US)